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World Cup 2026 shake-up in doubt as FIFA chief admits ‘issues’ with three-team groups

World Cup 2026 shake-up in doubt as FIFA chief admits ‘issues’ with three-team groups

The format of the 2026 World Cup remains up for discussion after FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani accepted there were “issues” with an earlier proposal for three-team groups.

The finals in the United States, Canada and Mexico will be the first to feature 48 teams yet the excitement at the conclusion of the group stage at last year’s finals in Qatar, which featured eight groups of four, has given organisers food for thought.

Three-team groups were originally proposed for 2026 but that ruled out the possibility of simultaneous kick-offs in the final group matches, potentially allowing the two teams playing the last match to engineer a result which suits them both.

It would also mean 16 teams would go out after just two matches, instead of the current three.

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It is understood the FIFA council will discuss the finals format at its next meeting in Rwanda later this month.

Montagliani told the Financial Times Business of Football Summit: “When [three-team groups] first came up it sounded great [but] there are some issues with it. Simultaneous kick-offs - you can't do it with groups of three. That's an issue.

“I think also you qualify for a World Cup and then a third of the teams go home after two games, [that is] probably not a great feel for some of them.”

Montagliani said any new format must fit within the same ‘footprint’ the tournament had in 2014 and 2018 even with 48 teams. However, this could mean a longer tournament but with a shorter warm-up period, albeit not as short as the seven-day lead-up to Qatar.

“We can't have a three-month World Cup obviously," Montagliani added. “We need to be responsible so that we're not impacting leagues and other competitions.”